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Just 13. Still, her guitar gently wows

It all comes out through the guitar.

When Rachel Bettendorf plays, histrionics are out. She just sits in her chair, staying so still that you have to check her hands to make sure that she really is playing.

She eases into "Moondance," a Van Morrison hit from long before the 13-year-old was born. For a while, she keeps it soft and low. Then she takes off, turning the song into a dance of her own.

The guitar "makes me feel good," she says.

"If I need to blow off steam, I'll just grab my guitar and start playing," she says. "I kind of think I'm different when I play - I'm more open. ... I'm kind of quiet when I don't."

Rachel has performed occasionally around Charlotte, usually with Lenny Federal, her teacher at the Community School of the Arts. On Friday, she has her first out-of-town gig: 30 minutes playing for the dinner crowd at the House of Blues in Orlando. Her father, an amateur guitarist, will back her up.

Listening to her father play is what led Rachel to pick up the guitar. She was 5 or 6 years old, and "I loved the way it sounds," she recalls.

"I asked him if he would teach me a few things. ... And I just fell in love with it."

Rachel mainly played for family until the summer of 2009, when she attended the Community School's summer jazz workshop. For her and the school alike, it was an eye-opening experience.

"I thought I was an OK guitarist," Rachel says. "But then people kept coming up to me, saying, "Hey, you did really good!' And my friends were all over me - 'You did great, Rachel.' "

The school thought so, too, president Andrea Stevenson says. It put her together with Federal, a veteran of Charlotte's music scene.

"I was impressed from the get-go," Federal says.

Playing comes to her naturally, he says, and so does expressing herself through the guitar. Now he's working with her on theory, technique and other skills.

"Lenny's real laid-back, but he's really good," Rachel says. When he has something new to show her, "he just eases me into it, and I can get it from there."

"He's like my other grandfather."

Earlier this year, Rachel's family planned a Florida trip for this month, her mother, Judy Bettendorf, says. Judy had learned on television about House of Blues' Sunday gospel brunches. She contacted the venue in hopes it would let Rachel play a song in one. After several calls by Judy and Rachel's brother Christian, someone at House of Blues finally watched a video. The callback with an offer came soon.

When Rachel and her father play on Friday, only one member of the family won't be along: Bandit, her pet Chihuahua. He's musical, too: When Rachel plays, she says, "he likes to sing."

"He howls at it. I don't know if it's a good howl or bad," she says, laughing. "I'm assuming it's a good howl."

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